". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Monday, June 27, 2016

Unstructured Play Week, Day 2: Kitchen Chemistry and Cooking Fun

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" Psalm 34:8

It's another fun day for unstructured play resources and discussions. Yesterday we talked paper dolls, and today it's kids in the kitchen!

About a week ago, I had morning devotions and prayer with my three children, then randomly asked them, "What fun adventures are the Ballard children going to have today?" To my surprise, my youngest son, age four, piped up: "Chemistry experiments!"

No, we do not have a chemistry lab in our home. We make do with our humble kitchen. And before you think that I am some kind of super mom/teacher who goes online and tracks down intricate, mind-blowing science stuff to teach her kids in her free time, let me assure you. It's really not like that.

My Play Kitchen Sticker Activity Book
Usually, science in my kitchen begins with "Mom, I'm bored," or "What would happen if. . . ?" Most recently, my youngest got to play with a toy Minecraft torch at a friend's house. Any kind of flashlight entertains a child of four, but this was extra fun because it was a torch, albeit a battery-operated one. Naturally, he wanted me to buy one for him. I couldn't gratify his toy wish immediately, but we did the next best thing. We made a real torch in the kitchen.

Note: This torch is not a toy. Also, making the torch is not unstructured play. I'm just throwing this in here because it happened in my kitchen, the kids loved it, and I like to play with fire. Please supervise your kids carefully if trying this at home!

How to Make a Torch

The Ingredients:
1 stick from outside (a greener one won't be as likely to burn)
1 large cotton ball
1 wire twist-tie from a bread bag
Oil (we tested vegetable oil and olive oil)
Matches or lighter

Instructions: Over metal sink or in another safe, supervised place, attach cotton ball to tip of stick with twist-tie. Douse with enough oil to partially saturate the cotton ball. Carefully ignite the cotton ball with match or lighter. You now have a torch! How long does it burn? Does it stay burning longer than a cotton ball with no oil on it?

Another Note: Please do not allow children to carry torch around. This is a good time to have that talk with them about not playing with matches. . .or fire. . .or making torches. . .without an adult supervising.

Okay, as I said, that activity falls under "structured play," or at least "carefully supervised, adult-assisted play," and this week's focus is Unstructured Play. Let's get back to that stuff.

kids play

I often turn my kids loose in the kitchen with "chemistry stuff." Even my four-year-old knows that the really fun ingredients are baking soda and vinegar. One time we used those ingredients to make some home-made cleaning solution, and now he offers to make more just so he can see the volcano effect.

kitchen chemistry kids
Many TV shows, movies, and games show people using chemistry sets (Sherlock Holmes, anyone?), but how many parents think to put realistic chemistry equipment into their kids' hands? I'm not talking glass beakers and graduated cylinders. I'm talking plastic ones. Maybe even homespun versions made from yogurt containers, medicine dose cups, or pop bottles. The "chemicals" should of course be safe, and they don't have to be complicated. My kids love to play with food coloring, salt, water, lemon juice, and of course, baking soda and vinegar. Playing with these materials requires very little supervision, and kids will make discoveries all on their own. If they ask "Why does it do that?" or "How does it work?" all you really need to tell a preschooler is "It's science!" But if you can explain it, they'll probably never forget.

Color & Cook Activity Book
Besides chemistry, the kitchen is also the scene of many an edible concoction. Sure, you can buy a kids' cookbook, but it's also fun to simply move aside and let the magic happen. My middle son can be a picky eater, so he has developed a few recipes of his own. He's becoming known in the family as a quirky chef!

One of his favorites is hamburger tacos:

Hamburger Tacos
Make tacos according to your favorite family recipe, but substitute ketchup for salsa. Add sliced dill pickles and whatever else you like on a hamburger.

And his most recent invention, which covers dinner and dessert:

Brownie-Peanut Butter Sandwich
Generously spread one slice of bread with creamy peanut butter. Generously spread another slice with Nutella hazelnut spread. Place a chewy brownie on one slice and close up sandwich. For a healthier option, substitute slices of banana or strawberries for the brownie.

Kids don't come up with creative ideas like these if they're given the impression that only grown-ups are allowed in the kitchen, or that all food comes from a strictly-followed recipe (or from a box).

More Ideas for Unstructured Kitchen Play
  • Turn kids loose to create musical instruments from kitchen items
  • Let kids wash dishes the old-fashioned way with sudsy water in the sink (this is more fun if they don't often get to try this)
  • Let them give their water-safe dolls and toys a bath in the sink
  • Stockpile recycleables and challenge kids to build a robot from them (Credit for that idea goes to a teacher friend, Candice!)
  • Frosting cupcakes or decorating cookies requires little supervision if you don't care about posting the results on Pinterest
  • Preschoolers will love making a tower or fort out of pantry items like cans and boxes
My grandparents' house
My grandmother used to turn her grandchildren loose with kitchen items (slotted spoons, colanders, empty spice tins) and send us outside to the driveway to dig, scoop, sift, and pour to our hearts' content. It was the next best thing to a sand box.

I hope you enjoyed messing around in my kitchen today. Please leave a comment below to share your favorite kitchen play activities! And stop by throughout the week for more on Unstructured Play. Tomorrow we go outdoors and take a hike up the creek (or "crick," as it is sometimes called in rural Idaho). Carry your water shoes!

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